October 28, 2015 - TRA Newswire

Congress OK's PTC implementation to 2018 with, maybe, a 24 month extension.

As  H.R.38​19 - Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2015​​  is signed into law, it will extend the deadline for America's railroads to fully implement PTC by three years from December 31, 2015 to December 31, 2018, according to a news release from the American Association of Railroads (AAR). It will also allow for up to 24 additional months under limited circumstances. Under the new law, each railroad must submit revised PTC implementation plans to the US Department of Transportation (DOT) within 90 days of the law's enactment to show how they will implement PTC by the 2018 deadline.

Freight railroads, commuter railroads and Amtrak were set to notify their customers that absent a reprieve from Congress, plans were being prepared to shut down much of the nation's rail service in late December. Texas Amtrak services and regional rail operations such as the Trinity Railway Express between Dallas and Fort Worth and MetroRail service in Austin would have been affected. A shutdown would have caused major interruptions to freight rail shippers in Texas, especially in the chemical and agriculture sectors.

American Public Transportation Association President and CEO Michael Melaniphy said in a statement that "on behalf of the public transportation industry and the millions of daily riders we serve, APTA applauds the United States Congress for extending the Positive Train Control (PTC) deadline for the commuter and freight rail industry. Today the Senate passed a three year extension for PTC as a part of passing a short term extension to authorize the surface transportation bill. Additionally, the short term extension allows public transit and highway programs to continue to operate while Congress continues to work on a long-term authorization bill. The House had passed the measure the previous day."

Positive Train Control (PTC) is a set of highly advanced technologies designed to make freight rail transportation, already one of the safest U.S. industries, even safer by automatically stopping a train before certain types of accidents occur. In 2008, Congress passed an unfunded mandate requiring America's privately owned railroads to finance, develop, install and test this unproven technology across 60,000 miles of the nation's rail network by December 31, 2015. Despite huge efforts to meet this deadline, most railroads will not be able to comply with this mandate.

Railroads will have the option of filing an alternative schedule for implementation with the US DOT. An alternative schedule must outline how a railroad will implement PTC no later than December 31, 2020, and will be subject to the binding review and approval of the US Secretary of Transportation. Starting in March 2016, railroads must file detailed annual PTC progress reports to US DOT until PTC is fully installed on each railroad's network. The US Secretary of Transportation will assess civil penalties to railroads that do not comply with the law.

Melaniphy indicated that "safety is the number one priority of the public transportation industry and the commuter railroads are 100 percent committed to developing and installing this life-saving PTC technology. The extension will allow for commuter rail operators to achieve the goal of ensuring this PTC technology and its many components are developed, installed, and tested successfully and safely. Transportation is the backbone of our economy. This three year extension of PTC implementation avoids the risk of an economic crisis that would occur if the nation's commuter and freight rail systems were force to shut down at the end of the year. By implementing a realistic timeline for PTC, the disruption of Amercians who take nearly 2 million daily trips on commuter rail systems every weekday was avoided. This extension prevents the shifting of these daily commuter rail trips onto overburdened roads which could have contributed to an unsafe commuting environment."


Background information on Positive Train Control in this story supplied by AAR.